Last night, in the haze of a million tweets about Mike Pence’s trip to the theater, something happened. Amidst discussions of distraction tactics, empty boycotts and “the real issues,” a man went to see Hamilton in Chicago, and let loose an explosion of profanity, threats and at least one glass of wine onto the head of a child, all in the name of Donald Trump.
Ken Keacher and I went to college together. We dressed as Mark and Maureen from Rent together one Halloween. We used to get drunk and sing showtunes. Kate Hoyt is a Pajiban, a term we use to lovingly refer to our readers. She posted a selfie in the Pajiba Facebook group on her way to the show, to the “likes” and happily jealous comments of her fellow readers. I didn’t know they knew each other, but it turns out they’re good friends and attended the show together. I only put it together when I read their separate accounts of what would follow.
I don’t tell you about these connections to address any biased reporting or anything like that. I tell you because it is easy to read viral-type stories of other people’s experiences and to be horrified and saddened, but at some point to disconnect. Until it’s your friend. Until it’s your home.
I’m sure you too have experienced friends and family members and colleagues downplaying and outright dismissing concerns about Trump. Who’ve written it off as liberal whining, as overreaction. Maybe even as lies fabricated to make our president-elect look bad.
Here is what happened last night from those who were there. From my friend and from our fellow Pajiban. Because now you too know someone it happened to, if you didn’t already.
It started when a family—with children in tow—arrived late.
“The first thing I remember is an usher with a flashlight helping a man back to his seat,” Hoyt said. He was stumbling and kind of weaving. I really thought it was an old frail man who needed assistance.”
As the man made it to his seat, his spilled the glass of wine he’d just obtained at the bar on a child sitting behind him. As the man’s apologies grew louder and louder, Keacher asked him to quiet down. Things were calmed momentarily, until one famous line: “Immigrants. We get the job done.” The audience’s overwhelmingly positive reaction clearly triggered the inebriated attendee.
“He started raising his voice and throwing up middle fingers at anyone who looked at him, including me and my best friend,” Keacher said. At that point, the man raised his fists toward Keacher.
“He was saying things like, ‘We won. Trump is president. Get over it’,” Hoyt said. “At some point Ken leaned into the aisle to try and tell him to leave and the guy then put up both his fists and said ‘Let’s go Democrats. I’ll kill you all.’”
Keacher and a few friends from his group spent the rest of the first act in the lobby. Hoyt stayed in her seat with the rest of their group.
“The house manager came down and was sitting next to the guy in the aisle trying to calm him down, but he wasn’t calming down. So I pleaded with him ‘please leave.’ And he he basically intimated that he wanted to go fight me outside. He kept shouting about Democrats and how his side won and we are all losers and he’s gonna take us all.”
At that point, Hoyt also left to join Keacher. As the man was eventually being removed, the ushers took their group to the balcony in an effort to avoid further confrontation.
“When I entered the top balcony, I could hear the man shouting—my husband told me that he stood up and was yelling right at the stage—‘I am being arrested by Democrats! Get over it you losers, this is Trump’s America now!’ The audience in my section cheered when the man was removed.”
Keacher, Hoyt, their group and presumably the whole audience was shaken by what had just happened.
“I went back to my seat and tried to enjoy the second half but my friends and I were all shaking,” Hoyt said. “I was holding back tears the entire time.”
Her husband remained seated, and told Hoyt that the man’s wife was “mortified,” at one point attempting to physically cover her husband’s mouth. One of the couple’s children was sobbing, as were other kids near their seat.
“I was enraged in the moment. I just wanted that guy to leave,” Keacher said. “I felt for that kid who was doused in wine, the asshole’s kids, and for my friends who have had these group tickets for over a year and have been waiting so anxiously. I’ve seen it, ruin my night, fine, but don’t ruin it for everyone else.”
Of course, this isn’t just about a show, or as simple as a ruined evening. This is another in a series of escalating events, aggressive actions in Donald Trump’s name that keep happening.
“I couldn’t help but think of what could have happened with a drunk psychopath threatening people right by the balcony’s edge,” Keacher said. “Or what would happen to his family if he was responsible for transporting them home. Or what other nightmares we’re in store for over the next four years.”
“It was obviously deeply disappointing after waiting almost a year,” Hoyt said. “But more than that there is this sinking feeling that this is what the next four-plus years are going to be like. That people of differing viewpoints and political positions won’t even be able to be in the same room together. That political infighting will derail nearly every other attempt to participate in public life. At one point I said to my husband ‘This is the new normal, isn’t it?’ That was the worst feeling of all.”